January 8, 2010

Redesign for a new student profile

Posted in teaching revelations, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 3:21 pm by profart

As someone who teaches intro-level classes, I feel it is part of my job to help students transition to the college environment. This is a broader challenge in the community college system, as there is a wider variety of “real world” situations students are transitioning in from, and a wider variety of college-level situations students are transitioning into. Most of the 4-year-college students are coming from a high school and into a group-living dorm situation, where they sometimes work a part-time job. A good chunk of community college students are coming in from situations involving work, family, and educational needs and transitioning into a world where college courses need to fit into the work, family, and educational needs. Even younger students are often working full-time, and increasingly don’t understand that you can’t work full-time and go to school full-time and expect to be giving your full effort on both fronts.

This transitioning has been an increasing challenge. To be honest, I thought it was me. Then I started reading blogs and talking to other colleagues, and hearing the same thing I was experiencing: an increasing number of students who arrive without an skills for reasoning and analysis, and increasingly poor writing and communication skills. When you up those science and math classes in schools, don’t neglect English and art! What good is making discoveries if you can;t communicate them to other people?

The new student profile includes kids who are really not on the college level. They require a lot more structure, a lot more spoon-feeding, a lot more specifics. You can’t just give them a task and have them discover for themselves how to complete it- they won’t do it. I am now realizing they can’t do it. Personally, I find that not only frustrating, but highly concerning. These kids have no problem-solving skills. They have regurgitation skills.

How do I transition these kids from a world where everything is plotted out for them, and all they have to do is get from point A to point B, to a world where they have to make their own decisions, decide where they want to go themselves, and use a map to get there? Especially since they seem to never have had a map in their lives?

And although the great influx of newly-out-of-high-school students is the major part of the problem, I am seeing these issues in “adult students” as well. Most of my plagiarism cases have not been “traditional age” students- it has been far more often the “adult” student, the older-than-usual, coming-back-to-school students who have proven to be a problem! How do I transition these students appropriately so that they understand this isn’t about slapping a grade on a transcript? Why are they even here, unless they want to learn? It used to be older students were great assets. Now they are increasingly huge liabilities.

I have made some redesigns to my classes to increase structure and flow, while encouraging individual exploration. I think the first step to striking out on your own is to strike out in a safe parameter. Instead of “write a paper about art”, we can start with “write a paper about the art of second-century Rome.” The student has a specific parameter to crutch themselves, but also have some wiggle-room to find something that interests them.

Now I just have to worry about the kids who have never had passion about anything, and so have trouble finding anything to interest them.



  1. onlyme said,

    I have these same issues with my students, and I’ve found that even “write a paper about the art of second century Rome” is too much for most of my first-year students. It seems they need to be hand-held through everything. They have no idea how to identify and use evidence, they plagiarize (intentionally or not) pretty much everything, and they don’t understand how to make a basic argument. Instead of papers, I’m now assigning the building blocks of papers (1) choose one quote. 2) explain this quote in your own words. 3)explain in your own words why this quote is significant…).

    The weird thing to me, from the younger students especially, is their regurgitation skills. They plagiarize so much because they don’t even have their own words to answer with. If you give them a question, they can identify the correct phrase or sentence in the text to answer that question– but they have NO IDEA what that answer actually means. It’s fascinating, really. They don’t even realize when they aren’t using their own words because they have no real comprehension of what they’ve read. They give the impression of understanding when they really have no clue what they are spitting back at you. It’s frustrating and kindof scary, if you think about it.

  2. profart said,

    Sounds like my autistic one. Hmmmmm…..

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